Experience Shakespeare’s Influence at HoMA’s 2019 Bollywood Film Festival

The 12th annual festival takes place Jan. 5 to Feb. 1 at the Doris Duke Theatre.
Video: Courtesy of Honolulu Museum of Art


Star-crossed lovers, greed, betrayal. Many of us read about these themes in Shakespeare’s work in school, and we continue to see them in films, plays and operas. Another place where they prevail? The largest film industry in the world: Bollywood. For more than 50 years, Bollywood has been adapting Shakespeare’s plays to its vibrant, undeniably entertaining storytelling aesthetic. Romeo and Juliet is a Bollywood favorite, and Comedy of Errors, Hamlet and Titus Andronicus are popular, too.


The Honolulu Museum of Art’s Doris Duke Theatre explores this cross-cultural celebration during its 12th annual Bollywood Film Festival, which runs from Jan. 5 to Feb. 1. For the first time, this year’s festival will feature a spotlight called “Shakespeare in Bollywood” consisting of two films that lead up to the dynamic live performance, Dream(e)scapes.


Catch Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, which turns Romeo and Juliet into an over-the-top, high-energy song-and-dance film representative of what most people might imagine when they think of Bollywood, on Jan. 16.
Images: Courtesy of the Honolulu Museum of Art


“Over the last decade, we’ve strived to bring a wide spectrum of Bollywood and Indian cinema to Honolulu each January, and the festival has grown to be one of our most popular programs,” says Taylour Chang, Doris Duke Theatre director. “These films offer a unique aesthetic vibrancy and portray unapologetic celebrations of life, often bringing together many different people in the community.”


Says Sai Bhatawadekar, director of the Center of South Asian Studies at UH Mānoa and Bollywood Film Festival committee member: “The [Shakespeare film] adaptations [in Bollywood] range from very gritty and indie to super blockbusters to basic love stories that people don’t necessarily even think back to Shakespeare. It becomes such a Bollywood kind of thing, you don’t even think it’s from this Shakespeare play and rightly so, because I think Shakespeare’s plays are so eternal.”


The festival will run the gamut of Shakespearean adaptations during its spotlight. First up on Jan. 16: Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, which turns Romeo and Juliet into an over-the-top, high-energy song-and-dance film representative of what most people might imagine when they think of Bollywood.


Omkara is an indie take on the 1603 Shakespearean tragedy.


The second film, screening on Jan. 17, is an award-winning adaptation of Othello called Omkara. Coming from director Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespeare trilogy of films, Omkara is an indie take on the 1603 Shakespearean tragedy. “This extraordinary director thinks a lot about an adaptation’s meaning and how to set a story from a different time and place into modern Indian contexts and spaces,” says Bhatawadekar, founder of dance group Aaja Nachle and director of Dream(e)scapes.


On Friday, Jan. 18, the spotlight culminates with Dream(e)scapes, an East-West fusion show featuring dancers from Aaja Nachle, the UH Department of Theatre and Dance and community organizations. Striving to show Bollywood as a dreamy fantasy world, the performance will include two compositions from the upcoming A Midsummer Night’s Bollywood Dream, a play co-directed by Bhatawadekar and debuting at Kennedy Theatre next month.


“What I say is that reality and fantasy exist altogether in one place,” she says. “That’s what … Shakespeare and Bollywood agree upon.”


The festival runs Jan. 5 to Feb. 1 at the Doris Duke Theatre, 901 Kīna‘u St. Tickets are $35; $30 for members. Get more information at honolulumuseum.org.